Country-leaning band makes music as open and casual as its small-town Wisconsin home

Dusk settled in Appleton, Wisconsin, a small town that rests two hours northeast of Madison, and the casual pace and added elbow room afforded by the locale bleed into the country-tinged songs populating the quintet's self-titled debut, out now on Don Giovanni Records.

“Appleton isn't a fast-moving town. It has that slow, rural feeling, which brings us to that melancholy, Americana thing we have going,” said Julia Blair, who's joined in the band by Ryley Crowe, Tyler Ditter, Amos Pitsch and Colin Wilde (the members share songwriting and vocal duties). “It's also in the middle of nowhere, a little bit, which can contribute to that … open space you hear [in some songs].”

Dusk started three years ago as a loose collaboration between Wilde and Pitsch, best known for his role fronting Wisconsin punk band Tenement, where the two would get together and bash out covers of soul classics. After Blair joined the fold, the group pivoted to writing its own material, gradually moving in a more country-oriented direction with the addition of pedal steel player Crowe.

In addition to sharing a residence — three of the band members live together in an Appleton house/recording space, which they've dubbed Crutch of Memory — the players share a fondness for country rock bands like the Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers, and this influence has shaped everything from the music (country-fried bar jams, shattered last-call ballads) to the subjects explored in song.

Dusk tunes tend to dwell heavily upon relationships, examining love as it takes root (“We do a lot of sappy love songs,” Blair said), falls to pieces (the cheating tale “Too Sweet”) or, most often, lands somewhere in-between (the flitting, leisurely “Leaf”).

“I think that comes from being fans of the [classic country] canon,” Blair said. “It's such a tempting subject because it's something everybody can identify with.”

Still other songs delve loosely into politics — the band's anger is shaped as much by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (and his apparent fealty to the Koch Brothers) as national events — though the musicians are careful to avoid sloganeering.

“There's something cool about being a little poetic about that stuff because then you can have people bobbing their head and tapping their feet, even if they don't know what the song is really about,” said Blair, who joins her bandmates in concert at Ace of Cups on Monday, June 25. “But then if you listen, there are layers you can peel off, like, ‘Oh, that's what that song is about.'”

“It's not required [to write about politics], but it would feel weird not to because it's something we all consider, and it's something that affects us all,” Blair continued. “It feels necessary, in a way. We've become this weird guinea pig with the whole ‘Wisconsin is open for business' thing, which is Scott Walker's platform. It's frustrating environmentally and socially, because the whole campaign is selling people on bringing jobs to Wisconsin, but it feels like it's all full of shit. It's worrisome.”

Of course, sometimes the best response is simply to unplug and give oneself space to decompress. Fortunately, the band offers that, too.

“I've done nothing all goddamn day,” the musicians sing on the freewheeling “Done Nothin,” the words ringing out far more as a celebration than a lament. In these hectic, oft-worrisome times, it's self-care advice worth taking now and again.